A case making its way through California state courts could end up legalizing digital signatures on initiative petitions. A high-tech company called Verafirma has developed technology that would allow voters to sign petitions on smart phones. At issue is a California law saying that signatures must be "personally affixed" to initiative petitions, and whether a digital signature meets that standard. The secretary of state's office opposes the idea, saying such a policy change must come from the legislature, not the courts. A lower court ruled against Verafirma, and the state court of appeals heard the case last week.
Initiative proponents tend to like the idea of digital signatures, saying that it reduces the cost of gathering signatures and therefore increases the chances that a petition circulated by volunteers can make the ballot. Most petitions these days are circulated by paid signature-gatherers, which makes ballot access cost-prohibitive for most volunteer efforts. Critics of e-signatures worry about the security of an electronic signature process, and that the relative ease of gathering electronic signatures might turn the current flood of initiatives on ballots into a tsunami. A 2001 paper prepared for the Speaker's Commission on the California Initiative Process provides a nice summary of the issues surrounding this topic.
Read more about it in the San Jose Mercury News.